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  • Originally published 08/14/2013

    Lincoln Mullen: How to Make Prudent Choices About Your Digital Tools

    Abraham Lincoln (almost certainly never) said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my ax.” Whoever came up with it, that bit of folksy wisdom neatly captures an ambiguity about work. You’d be a fool to work with a dull ax, but being shrewd about your preparations can quickly turn into being lazy about actually doing your work.

  • Originally published 07/30/2013

    Meredith Hindley: The Rise of the Humanities Machines

    Meredith Hindley is senior writer of HUMANITIES magazine.Stephen Mitchell suffered from allergies. “When the trees come out, I can’t see. People stand around saying, ‘Isn’t it lovely,’ but I weep,” he told the New York Times in 1965. A thirty-five-year-old professor at Syracuse University, he found sanctuary in the temperature-controlled environment of the school’s computer center, where he surprised many people by showing how computers could be used to advance work in the humanities.Each year, the Modern Language Association compiled a bibliography of every book, article, and review published during the year prior. Assembling the bibliography from more than 1,150 periodicals and making the accompanying index was an enormous undertaking, and it was all done by hand. Mitchell thought he could automate the process, and MLA agreed to let him try. He spent weeks translating the names of editors, translators, and authors into punch cards and writing the program to interpret the data. Then it was all over in twenty-three minutes. That’s how long it took the computer to compile and print the index, which ran to 18,001 entries.

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    AHA Today highlights digital history projects

    Jennifer Reut is associate editor of the AHA magazine Perspectives.With the recent proliferation of the digital humanities (DH) in and outside the academy, we thought it might be useful to draw attention to the kinds of projects historians are developing. The National Endowment of the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities (NEH-ODH) has been an early and substantial supporter of projects and workshops across the DH community, so it made sense to look at the recent round of NEH-ODH grantees as a way of highlighting recent work by historians.True to the nature of DH, many of the projects are broadly applicable to scholarship in the humanities, rather than just history, particularly those that construct platforms or environments for data and artifact sharing, analysis, and publication. We’ve focused on a few that were either specifically designed by historians or with an obvious application to historical studies, but we encourage you to view the full range of past and present grants at the NEH-ODH site and explore some of the other projects for possible intersection with your own interests and research.Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants, which we are featuring here, are smaller grants for projects that are still in the planning or prototype stage. Wherever possible, we have used the text from the grantees description.

  • Originally published 06/21/2013

    Archivists in France fight privacy initiative

    SERRAVAL, France — As a European proposal to bolster digital privacy safeguards faces intense lobbying from Silicon Valley and other powerful groups in Brussels, an obscure but committed group has joined in the campaign to keep personal data flourishing online.One of the European Union’s measures would grant Internet users a “right to be forgotten,” letting them delete damaging references to themselves in search engines, or drunken party photos from social networks. But a group of French archivists, the people whose job it is to keep society’s records, is asking: What about our collective right to keep a record even of some things that others might prefer to forget?The archivists and their counteroffensive might seem out of step, as concern grows about American surveillance of Internet traffic around the world. But the archivists say the right to be forgotten, as it has become known, could complicate the collection and digitization of mundane public documents — birth reports, death notices, real estate transactions and the like — that form a first draft of history....

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Ben Schmidt: The Exaggerated Crisis in the Humanities

    Ben Schmidt is the visiting graduate fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard University.Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about falling enrollments in the humanities disciplines. The news hook is a Harvard report about declining enrollments in the humanities; the moral they draw is that humanities enrollments are collapsing because the degrees don’t immediately lend themselves to post-graduate jobs. (Never mind that the Harvard report makes clear that the real competition is with the social sciences, not the 1% of humanities-curious first-years who major in computer science).But to really sell a crisis, you need some numbers. Accompanying the story was a graph credited to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showing a spectacular collapse in humanities enrollments. I made one of the first versions of this chart working on the Academy’s Humanities Indicators several years ago. And although it shows up in the press periodically to enforce a story of decay, some broader perspective on the data makes clear that the “Humanities in crisis” story is seriously overstated.

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Digital Humanities in the Spotlight at PhillyDH@Penn

    Tuesday, June 4, found just under two hundred very excited people gathered on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania for PhillyDH@Penn sponsored by PhillyDH, a consortium of "universities libraries / archives, museums, cultural institutions and digital media innovators."View from the sixth-floor balcony. Photo Courtesy of Jen Rajchel.

  • Originally published 04/18/2013

    "Cities are the Living Embodiments of Past Decisions"

     Children in wading pool at Cascade Playground, Seattle, 1939. All photos credit Seattle Museum of History and Industry.Stories about place are makeshift things. They are composed with the world’s debris.--Michel de CerteauIn most undergraduate history classes, students are required to take tests and write a paper or two.But University of Washington history professor Dr. Margaret O’Mara wanted to tap into her students’ curiosity and their relationship with the web and technology for her history of U.S. Cities course last winter.To bring urban history to life for her students and encourage them to explore and see their world in new ways, Dr. O’Mara created an innovative project that focused on Seattle’s dynamic South Lake Union neighborhood, now an area of high-tech businesses, medical clinics, trendy eateries, and pricey real estate.

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Professor digitizing centuries-old records that reveal tales of Florida’s first residents

    ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Inside a Catholic convent deep in St. Augustine’s historic district, stacks of centuries-old, sepia-toned papers offer clues to what life was like for early residents of the nation’s oldest permanently occupied city.These parish documents date back to 1594, and they record the births, deaths, marriages and baptisms of the people who lived in St. Augustine from that time through the mid-1700s. They’re the earliest written documents from any region of the United States, according to J. Michael Francis, a history professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.Francis and some of his graduate students in the Florida Studies department have spent the past several months digitizing the more than 6,000 fragile pages to ensure the contents last beyond the paper’s deterioration.

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    Martin Paul Eve: Open Access and the Humanities -- Reimagining Our Future

    Martin Paul Eve is a lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln. His work focuses on American 20th and 21st–century fiction in addition to thinking about mutations in scholarly publishing in the academic humanities. @martin_eveWhen it comes to open access in the humanities, it does not feel, to many, as though they were born open or are achieving openness but, rather, that they are having openness violently thrust upon them.Although the open access movement has been going strong for 10 years and has had good take-up in certain scientific disciplines, such as physics, the humanities currently lack the infrastructure and funding mechanisms needed to support the transition period triggered by RCUK's (Research Councils UK) mandate. Amid erroneous circulations of fear uncertainty and doubt surrounding open licensing, the whole setup appears anarchic and shambolic to many who just want to buckle down and write their research.

  • Originally published 03/19/2013

    Slaves’ forgotten burial sites, marked online

    They have been bulldozed over by shopping centers, crept over by weeds and forgotten by time. Across the country, from Lower Manhattan to the Deep South, are unmarked slave burial sites, often discovered only by chance or by ignominious circumstance as when construction crews accidentally exhume bodies when building a shopping mall.Compounding the problem of preserving and locating slave graveyards, there is no comprehensive list of where they are and who lies within them. The situation troubled Sandra Arnold, 50, a history student at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at Fordham University, who traces her ancestry to slaves in Tennessee.“The fact that they lie in these unmarked abandoned sites,” Ms. Arnold said, “it’s almost like that they are kind of vanishing from the American consciousness.”...

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    Lucinda Matthews-Jones: Facebooking the Past

    Lucinda Matthews-Jones is a lecturer in history at Liverpool John Moore (UK), where she teaches nineteenth-century British History. Details of her research can be found on her academia.edu profile. She also blogs and co-edits the Journal of Victorian Culture: www.victorianculture.com. She tweets from @luciejones83.Digital databases have provided scholars with new ways to access source material. Have we been quick enough to extend these benefits to our students? As a history lecturer, I am keen to encourage students to get their hands dirty by exploring a number of different kinds of primary source databases. Just before Christmas, I decided that I wanted to use digital sources in a different way. I wanted my students not just to find source material but also to use it, digitally, in ways that showed their understanding of lecture topics.There was also a practical reason for this change of gear. Having recently been appointed to a new lectureship, I was faced with a new challenge: how to devise a 28 week long nineteenth century gender history module that would not necessarily rely on the traditional lecture/seminar format that I had been used to.

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Jeff McLurken -- blending history and technology in the classroom

    Anyone familiar with the small but vibrant community of digital historians knows the name Jeff McLurken.  He is the chair of the History and American Studies Department at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, VA and an example for all historians interested in embracing the digital age. The Mary Washington University website is running a profile of McClurken that is worth a look.  Here is a taste: His creative and tech-savvy charges have a say in everything from the syllabus to assignments and provide insight on the new and innovative courses taught by the associate professor and chair in the Department of History and American Studies. McClurken, an expert in Civil War history and a sought-after presenter on digital learning, says the experience is just as beneficial for him as it is for the students.

  • Originally published 07/03/2014

    Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short

    As far as it went, the Supreme Court generally got it right in the Hobby Lobby-Obamacare-contraception case. Unfortunately it didn’t go nearly far enough.

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